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“Serene Squall” Reveals Spock’s Secret Pain on ‘Strange New Worlds’

10 Minute Read
Jun 16 2022
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The Enterprise fights intergalactic pirates on the edge of Federation space while everyone on board gets a crush on Spock in “Serene Squall”.

On last week’s episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Pike found himself crushing on the villain of the week with disastrous results. This week’s episode features a similar scenario but with radically different results. Nearly everyone cruises on Spock. Pike shows off his cooking skills. And along the way we encounter something which will reshape Star Trek lore forever. No big deal.

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To Boldly Recap

On the third moon of Omicron Lyrae is the Ankeshtan K’Til Vulcan Criminal Rehabilitation Center. There, T’Pring brings wayward Vulcans back to the way of logic. But T’Pring has other things on her mind. Namely, T’Pring wants to engage Spock’s human half – sexually. Spock is troubled by this because he feels even less connected to his human half than T’Pring does. Spock takes his anxiety to Christine Chapel – who is also deeply horny for Spock.

There’s no time for love, though, Mr. Spock! According to our guest star of the week Dr. Aspen, there are colonists on the fringe of Federation space without power. More than that, they are in danger from a group of raiding pirates on a ship called the Serene Squall. Lucky for them, Pike is game to play hero even if it means venturing into the galactic equivalent of the wild, wild west.

Enterprise finds debris, but no ships and no colonists. The theory is that pirates captured the colonists and intend to sell them off for slave labor. Despite being unable to reach Starfleet for approval, the Enterprise heads into unknown territory to mount a rescue. And after encountering a laser net that nearly destroys them, Enterprise finds one, lonely ship. Pike assembles an away team to find the colonists – and then everything goes sideways.

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Starship Thine

As Pike beams aboard the unknown vessel, two things happen. One, Pike’s team is captured by pirates because the ship he boarded is the Serene Squall. Two, the rest of the pirates invade the Enterprise. In short order, Enterprise is taken over with everyone beamed back to the Serene Squall save for Chapel, Spock, and Dr. Aspen. And as Pike’s team works to trick the Serene Squall crew into a mutiny, Spock’s team heads to engineering to retake Enterprise.

Pike uses his gifts as a chef to lure the hungry pirates into a false sense of security while he psychologically works them over. But back on Enterprise, Spock and Chapel fail to realize that Dr. Aspen has been playing them all along. Dr. Aspen is actually Captain Angel, leader of the pirates. And Angel’s plan is… well, it’s something. They are stealing the Enterprise and holding Spock specifically hostage.

Angel communicates with T’Pring and tells her that they want to make an exchange. T’Pring saves Spock if she hands over a Vulcan prisoner in T’pring’s care named Xaverius. T’Pring feels obligated because Spock is her super sacred Vulcan boo. Spock, logically, releases T’Pring from her requirements by faking an affair between himself and Chapel. T’Pring breaks up with Spock and leaves without making the trade.

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Intergalactic Talk Like A Pirate Day

While all these Vulcan hijinks are happening aboard Enterprise, Pike successfully takes command of the Serene Squall. He fires on Enterprise, forcing the pirates to surrender. Surprising no one, Captain Angel has a secret, individual transporter which she uses to escape, but not before making a lot of hay about the mysterious Xaverius and Spock’s connection to him.

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Pike resumes command of the Enterprise. T’Pring visits Spock and tells him she knew he was faking the whole time. They decide the best way to reconnect is to smash ritualistically. I mean sure! Can’t argue with that Vulcan logic! Afterwards Spock visits sickbay to ask Chapel if she needs to talk about what happened. She insists she is fine and knows that there is nothing romantically between them. She’s clearly lying, but that’s a problem for future Chapel.

However, just as “Serene Squall” is about to end, Chapel asks Spock about Xaverius. Spock says he realized early on that “Xaverius” is an assumed name for another Vulcan entirely. The Vulcan in question is part of the V’tosh ka’tur: a group of Vulcans who reject logic. And the Vulcan in question is also a son of Sarek who was born out of wedlock prior to Sarek marrying Spock’s mother Amanda Grayson.

Xaverius is, and I cannot believe I am writing this, Spock’s half-brother Sybok. Yes, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Sybok. Roll credits, baby. Hot damn.

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To Boldly Review

I know we all want to talk about the shocking return of one of Star Trek’s most infamous characters, but we have to talk about the rest of “Serene Squall” first. And the thing to understand about “Serene Squall” is that it is enjoyed best when you think of it is a tabletop role-playing game where everyone rolls either nat 20’s or crit 1’s the entire session. Because Angel’s plan only works if everyone on the Enterprise make very specific, bad choices. And Pike tricking the pirates into a mutiny against themselves using his skills as a cook is beyond absurd.

To be sure “Serene Squall” does not hold up to narrative scrutiny. Why are the pirates so easily manipulated? What makes Angel believe that Pike will enter non-Federation space without aid? And how does T’Pring intuit that a kiss between Spock and Chapel means she should leave? If we were to measure “Serene Squall” only by how much sense it makes, it is a stunning failure. In short, you could ask why a spaceship has a pirate ship’s steering wheel but it’s a lot more fun to just go with it because yarr shiver me timbers et cetera.

Moreover, “Serene Squall” is so emotionally intelligent and fun that its glaring flaws hardly matter. T’Pring is maybe the best partner anyone, human, Vulcan or otherwise, could ever hope for. The way Spock nearly chokes on his wine when T’Pring brings up human sexuality is hilarious, but it’s also really heartwarming. T’Pring understands that loving someone means taking the time to love the parts of that person you don’t immediately connect with. T’Pring love for Spock is logical but also deeply romantic.

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Dr. Aspen/Captain Angel

During the review of last week’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds I said that Alora was obviously the villain and that makes her bad. Get ready for some total hypocrisy, because Dr. Aspen/Captain Angel is obviously the villain throughout “Serene Squall” and I love that and them so much I can barely contain myself. The costume department literally puts Angel in a black, villain catsuit – you can’t get any more obvious than that. But it works and we have to talk about why it works.

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Throughout “Serene Squall” Spock struggles with the perceived duality of his human and Vulcan halves. And while we see this throughout Star Trek, Strange New Worlds dives into Spock’s identity with renewed vigor. T’Pring tackles Spock’s identity head on by reading books on humanity. Chapel uses jokes and levity to cheer Spock up while simultaneously meeting him where he is emotionally. But Angel pushes Spock towards a new way of thinking entirely.

Angel (still masquerading as Aspen) suggests to Spock that he is neither Vulcan nor human. They tell Spock that this duality is a false choice and that Spock’s true identity is one he gets to understand on his own terms. It’s no accident that Aspen/Angel are non-binary and that Jesse James Keitel (who plays the part brilliantly) is trans. Spock rejecting an either-or fallacy between his Vulcan and human “sides” is an effective analogy for trans and non-binary identity. Demanding that people adhere to a gender assigned at birth is as nonsensical as expecting Spock to be either all Vulcan or all human.

Also: while everyone is busy wondering about Spock’s love triangle with T’Pring and Chapel, it has got to be said that the heat between Spock and Angel is off the charts.

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We Don’t Talk About Sybok

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is largely considered the most reviled Star Trek movie that isn’t Into Darkness. A movie where Kirk pressures people to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and then gets into a fight with God?! Let’s just say, while there are things worth defending, The Final Frontier is by no measure a good movie. However, one aspect of that film which is worthy of both defense and expansion is Spock’s secret half-brother Sybok.

Sybok is Spock’s equal opposite number.  He favors emotion over logic and uses the emotional pain of others as a means towards understanding. As it happens, Sybok is an abusive leader who manipulates people’s emotions with his Vulcan psychic abilities in order to control them. Sybok believes he is destined to find a place called Sha Ka Ree where he will commune with a monotheistic god. Sybok’s ego nearly gets an entire ship’s screw killed and, spoilers, it’s all for nothing.

But what makes Sybok interesting is that he is a believer. Sybok sacrifices himself in the end because he believes in people. He’s deluded in how he thinks he can help others through shared pain, but helping others is sincerely Sybok’s aim. And that’s even more interesting for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds precisely because the entire crew has deep, past trauma. Imagine how powerful Sybok could be on the Enterprise? If Sybok already has that psychic ability to force others to face their worst pain, he could be a powerful nemesis to the Enterprise, indeed. And a far more original choice than just using Khan Noonien-Singh for the millionth time!

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The Spock, T’Pring, and Chapel Romantic Triangle

The one aspect of “Serene Squall” I am butting up against is Spock’s ongoing romantic angst with Christine Chapel. Yes, Chapel is in love with Spock in Star Trek: The Original Series. Honoring and expanding on that part of the Trek canon is a worthwhile endeavor. But Chapel’s unrequited pining for Spock is part of what made her a bit of an empty uniform back in the day. Chapel is more interesting on Strange New Worlds when she’s more than the woman Spock spurns.

The same can be said for T’Pring. Yes, her devotion to Spock is compelling at times, but it’s important to flesh her character out beyond the one relationship. There are two episodes now which deal with T’Pring’s dedication to bringing wayward Vulcans back to the side of logic. This passion could act in opposition to T’Pring’s desire to understand and embrace aspects of human identity. Surely, it’s more than Spock which pushes T’Pring to question non-Vulcan ways. T’Pring has been fixated on Spock for three episodes now. Cumulatively that’s too much and now is the time to move her forward in new directions.

If you compare T’Pring and Chapel with Spock you can see how much more characterization he gets by comparison. Spock has reach, developing friendships with Pike, Una, Uhura, La’an, and even Hemmer. T’Pring doesn’t appear to have a bond to anyone on the ship other than Spock. And Christine last two outings have focused on Spock as well. I like the complexity of this triangle! I am not against it! But these two characters deserve more.

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Stray Observation Deck

There’s a tip-off that Angel is the real pirate captain. They say they know Vulcans and later we see a game of Kal-Toh on the captain’s desk of the Serene Squall. Kal-Toh is a Vulcan game of logic which is first established with Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager.

Angel asks Spock about the Kolinahr, a Vulcan ritual for purging emotions. Spock does not go through the ceremony until Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but Angel is surprised Spock has not gone through it already.

When Spock explains who Sybok is to Chapel, she correctly identifies him as being a part of the V’tosh ka’tur. The V’tosh ka’tur are a group of Vulcans who specifically reject Vulcan logic in favor of emotions. They are first introduced in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Fusion”.

Erica Ortegas describes the weapon which nearly destroys the Enterprise as a “laser net”. This is an obvious reference to “The Tholian Web” from Star Trek: The Original Series.

While we do not see Sybok’s face we do see another Vulcan named Stonn. T’Pring ultimately leaves Spock for Stonn in the Star Trek episode “Amok Time”.

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Questions, Queries, Quibbles

There’s only one real question: when will we see Sybok for real? Clearly the man in the final shot is a body double. Has Sybok been cast? My suspicion is that he has been but we will not start actively dealing with him until Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2. Hopefully when Sybok does appear, we’ll get a healthy dose of Captain Angel to go along with him. What do you think happens next and what are your hopes for Spock’s bearded half bro? Let us know!

Until then, this is your humble recapper signing off. Live long and prosper!

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Lina Morgan
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